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Poetry Moment: 'Underneath the Crabgrass' by Laura Villareal

Poet Laura Villareal

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Todd Davis is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Penn State Altoona.

This episode’s poem is “Underneath the Crabgrass” by Laura Villareal.

Laura Villareal earned her MFA at Rutgers University—Newark. Her debut poetry collection, Girl’s Guide to Leaving was published in 2022. Her writing has been supported by fellowships from the Stadler Center for Poetry and Literary Arts at Bucknell University and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, among others. While she was a fellow at the Stadler Center in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, she completed her debut collection and began working on a series of new poems including “Underneath the Crabgrass” which was first published by Shenandoah.

The idea of a lawn and landscaping is something that was sold to the middleclass after the two world wars, after the Great Depression. What once had been the domain of the rich, even royalty, as seen in the gardens of manors and castles, was foisted upon common folks with promises of green and pristine turf, grasses from far-off places, flowers and shrubs imported to satisfy aesthetic desires and our need to feel a certain way about where we lived as we scaled the mythic cultural ladder. In doing so, what was covered up? What was choked out? Villareal explores her own family history, its secrets, through the metaphor of the garden and the uninvited crabgrass that grows despite our best efforts.

Here's —

Underneath the Crabgrass

A weed needs to be shown
where not to go, what not to swarm.
But we’ve let this one go unmanaged
because, let’s face it,
it’s better than the yellow husk
of other varieties in this heat.
Crabgrass, Digitaria sanguinalis,
is a vine-like weed
that overtakes everything,
& I admit it’s kinda beautiful.
The blades are dream-like,
a green of another world, & plush too.
Underneath the crabgrass
are my mother’s annual efforts
to make earth into a garden.
Lavender & marigolds
heat-throttled near the toad house,
steppingstones & rubber mulch
now somewhere swallowed
in grassy tickertape. I pitchfork the ground
using my memory as a dowsing rod
& am surprised to find
more than I expected after twisting
a superficial layer up off the ground:
my grandmother’s breast cancer
kept secret for two years,
my grandmother’s heart,
my grandfather’s mouth & lungs,
my father’s heart & diabetic wound,
everyone’s uncontrolled sugar.
I locate my root rot,
locate what my family lets go
in their silence. I am invasive.
My family tells me the locations
but rarely the names.
I walk through the yard, continue
forking the ground until I hear
something announce itself
for me to unchoke & name.


That was “Underneath the Crabgrass” by Laura Villareal.

Hear more episodes of Poetry Moment at WPSU.org/poetrymoment.

Music by Eric Ian Farmer.

Todd Davis is the 2022-23 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.